The contest to find an opponent for Manchester City in the Capital One Cup final headed into extra time. A first-half header from Jonny Evans had put the tie level, 2-2 on aggregate, but Sunderland were obdurate opponents for a Manchester United side demonstrating why David Moyes clearly feels they need more creativity in attack.
Juan Mata's impending arrival will help on that count and there certainly times when the Premier League's seventh-placed team looked short of ideas in their front line.
They started the game brightly but Sunderland played with great togetherness in the opening stages and it quickly became apparent that Gus Poyet's team were going to give everything in front of a boisterous 9,000-strong following. Lee Cattermole was operating as a shield in front of the Sunderland defence. Fabio Borini could be seen haring back from his position on the left side of attack to help out in defence and that attitude ran through the entire team. Poyet may not have the most refined side but they were determined to compensate with other qualities.
United threatened only sporadically before the stooping header from Evans to make it 1-0 but they had been the more dangerous side and, once again, there was more evidence of Adnan Januzaj's gifts. At one stage the teenager jinked his way past three different Sunderland challenges, showing equal measures of courage and skill. On another occasion, he impudently put the ball between the legs of Sunderland's left-back Marcos Alonso. Mata is going to have to excel if it means keeping a player with this ability out of the team.
Vito Mannone, Sunderland's goalkeeper, had to block Javier Hernandez's header from an early Januzaj free-kick but Sunderland were relatively comfortable until the brief flurry that brought the goal. They had a defence containing three former United players in Wes Brown, John O' Shea and Phil Bardsley and there was little to trouble them until Darren Fletcher turned Shinji Kagawa's cross against the post and Danny Welbeck's follow-up effort was saved. United won a corner and when Januzaj delivered the ball into the penalty area Welbeck was the first to react. His right-foot effort was miscued but the ball bounced conveniently for Evans, running in at the far post, to beat Mannone.
Sunderland could reflect on only a couple of half-chances in the first half. Borini flashed a 25-yard effort just over the crossbar and it needed Alexander Buttner to clear Brown's header from a corner just before the interval. Sunderland, however, mostly played with conservatism. A better team might have shown greater willing to examine whether United would be vulnerable at the back, especially with Nemanja Vidic missing because of his red card at Chelsea. But there were not too many occasions when Poyet's men exerted prolonged pressure or set about trying to find out why United had lost four of their five games this year.
At the other end, Rafael da Silva put a left-foot shot not too far wide early in the second half. Januzaj, always wanting the ball, did likewise. Yet United were also struggling for real fluency. Kagawa showed some nice touches but still struggles to exert real influence on matches and there was no shock that he was replaced just after the hour. Welbeck is a good level or two down from Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, both missing again, and Hernandez was often on the edges.
Sunderland's problem was one of creativity and whether they could find the cutting edge to restore the aggregate lead; if they could not score then away goals would kick in, favouring United, at the end of extra time.
Adam Johnson started to have more of the ball in the second half. Yet Steven Fletcher was isolated at times in attack.
Antonio Valencia replaced Kagawa and immediately went to the right wing, with Januzaj switching to the opposite side. The 18-year-old had a licence to roam and continued to be prominently involved. His shooting, however, was mostly off range and, at 1-0, there was still that danger of Sunderland snatching a breakaway goal.
Moyes was incensed at one point by Buttner giving away a needless free-kick and then not tracking back to cover his position. The attack came to nothing but it was a little warning from Sunderland and there was another shortly afterwards when Johnson chested down a left-wing cross and let fly with a volley that was deflected wide.
Alonso lashed another left-foot shot just past the post and still there was the sense that if Sunderland just showed a touch more ambition they had the opportunity to make it a nervous finale for the home crowd. The visiting supporters had made an almighty racket but Poyet's men were always reluctant to push too many players forward and, as a result, David de Gea was seldom troubled.
Manchester United 4-2-3-1
De Gea; R da Silva, Smalling, Evans, Buttner (Evra, 85); Fletcher, Carrick; Januzaj, Welbeck, Kagawa (Valencia, 61); Hernandez.
Subs not used
Lindegaard, Jones, Giggs, Young, Cleverley.
Mannone; Bardsley, Brown, O'Shea *, Alonso; Cattermole (Gardner, 82); Johnson, Colback, Ki, Borini * (Altidore, 86); Fletcher.
Subs not used
Ustari, Larsson, Celustka, Giaccherini, Vergini.
Referee L Mason.
(c) 2014 Guardian Newspapers Limited.
Original headline: Evans draws United level but Sunderland earn a bit extra: Manchester Utd 1 Sunderland 0 Evans 37 Score at 90 mins, aggregate 2-2
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